by Carla King
While teaming up with other writers can help you finish your book, beta readers can help you answer the question: Will my book succeed?
If you’re like most authors, you don’t want to show readers your book until it’s perfect: perfectly edited, perfectly proofread, and perfectly formatted. Don’t wait! Find people who read your genre to comb through your messy draft and let them help you.
If you are a perfectionist, you’re going to find this difficult. If you’re paralyzed with uncertainty about your book, you’re going to find this difficult. If you’re shy, you’re going to find this difficult.
As someone who has coached hundreds of writers through the publishing process, I’m here to tell you that most untested books are unsuccessful books. Save yourself the angst and agony of uncertainty and test it now. Beta readers can help you by . . .
- Identifying plot holes, ambiguous themes, unfinished scenes, continuity gaps, and other writing pitfalls.
- Building believable and unique characters.
- Fact checking.
- Editing (both developmental and copyediting).
- Keeping you motivated by cheering you on.
- Giving you five-star reviews when your book launches.
- Helping you spread the word about your book.
- Beta reading your next book.
The value of community
When you involve others in your writing process—peers, writing groups, beta readers—you are creating a community around you and your book. People L.O.V.E. being in community. How much do you look forward to your writing group meetings? How eager are you to read the others’ works?
For readers, the act of writing is an exciting mystery, and to be invited to look behind the scenes is a privilege. To be invited to contribute to the writing process is an even greater thrill. Have you ever seen your name in the acknowledgements of a book? I have, and it’s an exceptional feeling. Beta readers, even if they’ve only helped you with a few misplaced commas, feel invested in the success of your book. Their enormous pride in having helped you write will be reflected by their five-star reviews and their assistance with book marketing.
Beta readers are a natural first step to creating a book marketing street team to help you get the word out about your book.
Make sure you send them each draft as it is developed, including the ARC (Advanced Readers Copy), and the final ebook or even an autographed paperback. Thank them in advance by acknowledging them on your website and on social media even before your book is published. Also include a list of beta readers in the acknowledgements of your book.
Finding beta readers
Beta readers are everywhere. Ask friends, family, peers, current readers, your mailing list subscribers, and social media friends and followers to beta read your book.
If you write mystery, you are immersed in communities of writers and readers on social media, right? You may be a member of a mystery lovers book group on Facebook, where you can invite members to beta read your book. If not, now’s the time. Cozy mysteries? There’s a group for that. Paranormal cozy mysteries? Yep.
Check out the chapter on Beta Readers in my free Consumer’s Guide for Self-Publishers to learn about the many places you can find beta readers.
How to work with beta readers
Make it easy on yourself and use a tool like BetaBooks to centralize feedback from beta readers. I spoke with BetaBooks co-founder Paul Kilpatrick on the Author Friendly Podcast and we talked about best practices for working with beta readers: what to ask them about characters, conflict, plot, theme, narrative arc, and pacing, for example. While your writing group members know what those terms mean, readers may not, so you have to prime them by asking the right questions.
Mark Coker at Smashwords has an excellent lesson on how to work with beta readers as well.
Addressing the fear
As a publishing coach, I’ve worked with hundreds of authors, and I realize that revealing your writing can be a big step for even the most confident among us.
Some writers will do anything to delay publishing their book and procrastinate for years. They may resist showing their manuscript to anyone with the ridiculous fear that if they put it “out there,” someone will steal their idea.
I’ve already mentioned perfectionism, but other writers do the opposite. They are in a hurry to get their books out, and skip steps so they “just don’t have to think about it anymore.” Usually, these books are launched to crickets. It takes about a year of community involvement and deliberate platform building to make sure a book launches to an audience.
Sometimes, authors mistake excitement for fear. We all feel excited when we make the big steps in our lives. Think about beta readers as readers you are “dating.” So go out and date some potential readers, reveal your imperfect self, your imperfect writing, and take their feedback. You may find out you’re writing to the wrong audience. You might think you’re writing in one genre, but your readers, who are immersed in that genre, say otherwise. This is much more common than you may think.
Fear is normal, and a common side effect of risk-taking. You can start small by asking your writer friends for support, your friends, and family. Trust your communities and widen your net.
Pay attention to feedback, be open to change, thank your beta readers, and your coming out party—your book launch—will be fabulous.
Your path to a successful manuscript
Critique partners, beta readers, and professional editors are essential to a successful manuscript whether you’re self-publishing or seeking an agented publishing deal. An author with a community is an author who can sell books. I hope I’ve convinced you to share your early work. I want you to make sure readers like your book and that it will earn five-star reviews before you publish. Start now. You may be surprised at how fun it is to write in community.
- Mark Coker’s Smart Author Podcast: Working with Beta Readers
- The Author Friendly Podcast with Paul Kilpatrick at BetaBooks
- Online Course: How to Recruit Critique Partners & Early Readers
- Free Self-Publisher’s Toolkit: Consumer’s Guide, Metadata Cheatsheet, and Book Launch Checklist
Carla King helps authors write and publish their books with her online courses, small group workshops, masterclasses, and coaching and consulting services. As a pro-blogger, motorcycle adventure travel journalist, technology and travel writer, she self-published her travelogues early, in 1994. Her Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Independent Authors is now in its 5th edition. Carla runs the independent publishing and technology track at the San Francisco Writers Conference, is a presenter at the Nonfiction Writers Conference, and teaches publishing for the National Association for Memoir Writers and other organizations. She also works with Authority Publishing, a hybrid press, to publish your nonfiction book. Ask her about AP’s new self-publishing concierge service. Find out more and schedule a talk with Carla at DestinationPublished.com.